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13 WTHR Indianapolis | Indianapolis Local News & Weather

Hamilton Co. prosecutors enforcing school absence policy

Parents and children cutting school in Hamilton County are learning there are consequences more serious that a trip to the principal's office.
The ACES program is aimed at increasing class attendance.

Parents and children cutting school in Hamilton County are learning there are consequences more serious that a trip to the principal's office. Every school district in the county is now working with the prosecutor's office to put teeth in Indiana's attendance and truancy laws.

Sheridan's schools are the latest to team up with the prosecutor and put additional pressure on families whose children are absent too much, though administrators say that number is small.

"Every student not in school that should be in school, we want to do what we can to keep them there," said Sheridan High School Assistant Principal Jane Newblom.

"ACES" is short for Attending Class Equals Success. The program started about three years ago with a single Hamilton County school district and has now grown to include all of them.

When students' absences exceed the school's limit and parents don't heed administrators' warnings, the prosecutor sends them a letter threatening criminal charges.

"If that's what it takes to put that child in school, we will do what it takes," said Hamilton County Deputy Prosecutor Amy Summerfield.

Summerfield says her office has sent warnings to dozens of parents. Only one case resulted in criminal charges. The likelihood of a trip to a criminal or truancy courtroom apparently brought children back to their classrooms.

"We are hoping juveniles that are in school are not in the juvenile system," Summerfield explained.

Schools fighting excessive absenteeism on their own, rely on warnings, meetings with counselors, and special programs for help students make up the lost work. But in the end, the most serious penalty is suspending children whose plan was to get out of school in the first place.

Westfield Washington schools joined the ACES program this year. Kids they couldn't reach before, administrators say, are in school now.

"Attending on a regular basis, and that's positive. Just making sure those students are identified as making education as a priority in their lives at this point," said Director of Student Services Chase Stinson.

Not all parents agree. One of them is Dr. Nick Cuevas.

"We are not going to tolerate this kind of tyranny in our community," he said.

The Noblesville parent says his family received a warning from the school when his two children missed eight days of classes.

"It's just way over the line, it really is. It is a huge grab of state's rights," he explained. "Our children belong to their parents, they don't belong to the school."

But schools insist the seldom-enforced laws are on their side and their children are in class.